Climbing the Writing Wall

I’ve sat for several hours, contemplating this blog post. Oh, all right–the truth is, I’ve been contemplating it, strictly subconsciously, as I’ve been messing around with my tablet PC, downloading apps and wallpaper. Gadgets are my shiny things (you know, “So I guess I’d better do this before–oh, look! Shiny things!”)

Another truth is that I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to write. Many things are circling around in my head–they have a lot of empty space to do so now, as I completed the last of my assignments this weekend, wrapping up my long-term stay in Hell’s Hostel (aka working full time and going to school nearly full time for four years). Soon I will be documented as able to perform the job I’m already performing, but in these uncertain economic times I wanted to make sure I was marketable and had the advantage should I have to look for a new job.

While I stared at this blank screen (until I remembered I was looking for apps and wallpapers for my tablet, that is), I started thinking about my climb up the writing wall. I know it’s an odd imagery; bear with me. I’ve never thought of my growth as a writer being an upward climb as I gain skill by agonizing inches and a downward descent as I refine that skill when faced with criticism. To me, writing is like climbing a steep, stepped, never-ending wall–because there really is no end to one’s journey as a writer. There is always a new idea, a new technique, a new level of craft to which we can aspire.

The wall is steep, yes, with plateaus we reach as our skill improves. We can stay on a plateau and stagnate, or we can strive to climb higher, thus attaining greater skill and mastery of the craft.

I hit this writing wall when I was a kid, no doubt because I was running without looking where I was going, figuratively speaking. From the time my sister taught me how to read when I was four to the moment several hours ago when I finished editing the latest chapter of my work-in-progress, the written word has been my obsession and publication my El Dorado.

This last year has been a plague of self-doubt as I questioned my ability. Some days I can open my work and think “Damn, I’m good. How did I get this good?” Other days, my finger hovers over the delete button as I seriously consider flushing all the crap from the commode titled WRITING FOLDER and leaving this obsession behind. After all, what has it done to me? It has taken a part of me and walled it off to live in near-psychosis.

This part of me is always planning a story, running dialogue between characters, dreaming up narrative and descriptive–always plotting, plotting, plotting. It’s made me into one of those people who always answers a question or replies to a comment with “What was that?” because my mind was elsewhere and I only caught a bit of what someone said–if anything at all. It kicks in the moment I wake up, even if it’s 2 a.m. and I woke just to use the bathroom. This part guarantees that I’ll be up from 2 ’til 4, unable to shut it up.

The thought of escaping the obsession that rules my life doesn’t fill me with desire or relief, but with dread. I wonder not “What will I do if I’m not writing?” but “What will I be if I’m not a writer?” I’ve worried greatly over the last few years, knowing I’m probably never going to write a complicated novel like Diana Gabaldon or Dennis Lehane or the man whose stories fanned the flames of my desire to write my own, Stephen King. It’s not that I don’t have the skill or talent or patience to pull it off, because I do. I just don’t have the desire.

When I realized this, I panicked. I was so panicked I couldn’t have written a two paragraph letter to my grandmother, let alone worked on any of the projects languishing in the WRITING FOLDER. I mentioned my fears to Long-Suffering Spouse because I talk to him about everything. His answer to my crisis of faith in myself was “Don’t worry about it. Write what you want.” At first I thought this was incredibly trite, but I realized he was onto something, as he often is. Maybe I won’t write a ginormous, complicated story, but that’s okay. Its not what I do. What I write is relationships, and I do it well. They may be called fluff books. They’re never going to win their place in the exalted land of LITERARY FICTION. Hell, my first works might not ever be published.

But they’ve led me here to this plateau, so high above where I was four years ago when I picked up the threads of the stories I’d packed away in a drawer a decade before. So high above where I began when I was running without looking and hit the wall of fate that changed me into a fiction writer. So high yet to climb to where I want to be.

There are many steps to go before I reach the next plateau: a writing challenge called A Round of Words in 80 Days; several technique books to read; a writing class taught by the quirkiest damn writer I’ve ever met; and a crap-ton of research to do for the story I’ll be writing during the writing challenge.

Today, no delete button.

Today, I’m climbing the writing wall.


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